Wonderful coming together at Easter

Over the lockdown, our roadside garden has finally received the attention it has long needed.

As I gardened, passing pedestrians greeted me from a distance and encouraged me to persist. I imagined myself back in the small town in which I grew up, where neighbours interacted from front verandas across neatly trimmed hedges.

People often called out a greeting and waved, keeping the respectful distance then considered normal. Our heightened attention to those around us is a welcome byproduct of staying in our neighbourhood.

It's inspiring to experience such considerate behaviour. Something about our shared predicament is prompting friendliness.

I know there is more than that happening. These times also expose our struggles to cope. Many people are facing terrible challenges at home and at work, if they still have it.

Traditionally for the Church, Easter has meant more worshippers, lively ritual and bold music. Trumpets have sounded triumph and songs have exclaimed victory.

This year brought a different gift, a gentler tone. Easter had to go home. And what a gift it was.

At Knox Church, Dunedin people celebrated Communion in their homes while connected online. They broke bread and shared juice of the vine at kitchen or coffee tables. Families with members living in different parts of the country or belonging to different churches were able to share together.

People unused to church worship ate and drank with family members more familiar with it. Though physically separated, there was a remarkable coming together. These experiences of community, new and strange, have become precious. They always were.

The Church's experience is that when people are unable physically to gather, faith often has space to flourish differently, perhaps more deeply.

Core Christian practices such as prayer, loving service and mutual care take on greater significance. For example, when religion was banned during the Cultural Revolution in China, these practices went underground. They spread, but no-one would have known. Then in 1980, under Deng Xiaoping, religion emerged from banishment. Its subsequent burgeoning owes much to what was happening beneath the surface for 20 years.

The urge for community, even online, reflects part of the Easter story. In his gospel, John writes that as Jesus neared death, his mother Mary and his close friend, with others, gathered near the cross. Almost in his last gasp, Jesus asks his close friend to care for Mary, so she was taken into the friend's home.

In the most dire situation, Jesus emphasised care for people most vulnerable. The resurrection stories highlight how even closed doors will not thwart God's desire for us to live in relationship with each other and with God. It is wonderful to see how in our city that desire is being lived out.

Physical gathering is an important way community is nourished and expressed. Its absence is prompting inventive alternatives.

Small acts like lighting a candle, taking time to reflect, praying for others, saying thanks over meals, and at the end of the day offering a word of thanks, nourish our connection with others and the One who is in all. And so Easter comes home again, as the care we are seeing deepens and grows.

 - Kerry Enright is the minister at Knox Church.


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